I was raised by a trained fine artist – in the Old Country (well, Leningrad, which was built to resemble a cosmopolitan European city.) My mother learned and then taught painting and drafting at the arts university. I do not remember when she started taking me to museums. Much like reading, which I cannot remember learning (it feels like something I’ve always just been able to do,) there’s no First Museum Day in mind. I’ve been to the Hermitage repeatedly - I may have seen Michaelangelo’s David there, in fact. We moved to America when I was six years old, and by the time I was eight, I’m pretty sure I’d been taken to every major gallery in New York City. Sadly, I didn’t enjoy any of it; I had no patience for museums. I was bored almost immediately by anything without a narrative. I’d devour any book I could find, regardless of content, but standing there staring at enormous naked women or a seemingly random arrangement of multicolored splotches, I was bored out of my wits. In fact, the only intense emotion I can associate with this time is being scared shitless by either this or this Malevich painting. It felt like something out of a nightmare brought to life. Thinking back on it, maybe that was the experience that sowed the seeds for me: the unconscious realization that art could affect me, regardless of how pleasantly (or not.)
A little under twenty years alter, I am now pretending to be an adult. I pay rent and wear a tie and sip bourbon and assume I have developed my own taste in fine art. I go to the Met and the Museum of Art on a regular basis. The 2009 Armory Show (a living artist exhibit named after the original 1913 Armory Show, a coming-out party for modern art in New York) and the 2006 Outsider Art Fair are some are some of my fondest art-based memories. Sadly, for all the episodes of The Joy of Painting and abortive attempts at being art-schooled, my taste is not exactly refined. I go by my gut and my heart, which are more often than not triggered by sex, violence, pop-culture referentiality (or usually some combination thereof.) I can hold down a conversation with someone who knows what they’re talking about, but I am pretty damn ignorant regarding both history and technique. Paintings, like film and music (two other great passions of mine,) are produced by fairy dust and magic wands. I can observe someone paint or play the guitar or make a movie, but the step between the act and the finished product is a big question mark on the flow chart. By virtue of sloth, I’ve come to appreciate this fact – it’s nice to know there’s a little magic left in the world.
Anyway, let’s get to the meat. I wanted to show off a few artist I’ve found and really, really dig on. I subscribe to a couple of (often NSFW) art blogs (Right Some Good is my favorite.)
Click for high-resolution version.
Fernando Vicente is a Spanish illustrator who created a set of paintings called Vanitas. The paintings feature somewhat stylized women in fashion-magazine poses, with sections cut away revealing textbook-quality anatomy. A friend of mine noted that Interiores (above) may also be referencing/borrowing from John Singer Sargent’s Portrait of Madame X. The mix of the scientific detachment of the anatomical sections with the sexual posturing of the models is what attracts me to this series. Unlike the fear of death associated with a zombie (the only figure I can think to associate with these women,) they are presented as healthy, if a bit pale, inside and out. There’s no decay, only the presentation of a healthy, working and, most importantly, sexually attractive body.
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Brian M. Viveros (link mildly NSFW, paintings NSFW,) explains himself as a “Surrealist fetish/mutilation” artist. I hate to go against how an artist describes himself, but that description severely limits what I see in him. His paintings almost exclusively feature elongated women with enormous features and cigarettes between their blood-red (and often bloody) lips. Often there is an aura of violence about them: military gear, bloody noses and boxing gloves all feature in his portraits. He makes it easy to cry “misogyny” and completely write him off. Naturally, the devil (or saint, in this case) is in the details. Take one of my (and by his constant publicization it, his) favorite paintings: EvilLast (above.) Her lip is bloody and her nose may be broken but the blood on her body and helmet is not hers, and there's plenty more of it. One can even assume there's plenty of it on the boxing gloves just out of frame. The power and femininity collide in the face: flawless eye shadow and a lively red rose framing a battered boxing helmet, the blood on her lips mixes with the lipstick. The neck, oversized, is clearly feminine but in no way frail. The look in the eyes isn't exhaustion or fear: it's a challenge. The look of victory on a battered face is one of Viveros' trademarks. From a personal perspective, these are paintings of empowerment. The mix of over-implied femininity and equal give and get of violence is a clear message: standing up in a fight does not enmasculate a woman.
I think that’s enough for today. I had a few more, but these two exemplify my adoration of anesthetized sex and violence. Next time: nostalgia.